The Contender By: Robert Lipsyte Setting: The majority of the novels setting takes place in the streets of Harlem. Where there are cars always cruising up and down the streets and the transistor radios are blaring into the night sky. There are always people up and about walking around for no apparent reason just to walk. The other major setting is at Donatelli's gym. It is described by the author as humid air with the smell of swet; it has a ring, a few punching bags, and posters of champions on the wall.
Characterization: The main character in the story is Alfred Brooks. A black teenager, who is a high school drop out, and he is a pretty puny kid; and he has a job in a grocery store. He has friends but they are a bunch of drug addicts, and they always want to steal but Alfred is always gone when he knows trouble is coming.
Lipsyte develops the character of Alfred by dialogue. The reader just gets to know Alfred's clumsiness and his small stature more and more as the story progresses. The two other characters that play an important role in the story is Aunt Pearl she tries to run Alfred's life by telling him what to do. The other character would be Donatelli because he gives Alfred the disciplinary advice on what he needs to do, to survive in the streets.
Plot: The story begins in the streets with Alfred and his friends needing money to drink, so they decide to rob the Jewish store but Alfred doesn't agree, so he leaves. The friends rob the store and they get caught. Then he watches them get taken away in the police car he starts to walk back to his Aunt Pearls house this gang of kids stops him and ask him for all his money and he won't give it to them so they beat him up. Then the next day Alfred awakes all of a sudden and he finds himself in his Aunt Pearls house where he lives because of the inability of his parents to care for him. He lies to her about what happened and of course she did not believe him because Mr. Peterson, the man who brought Alfred home from the alley told her the situation. Alfred learned that what he thought as his aunt being too strict with him, was just her caring so much for him. When he recovered he decided to check out a few gyms so that he could learn to defend himself.
The gym that caught his eye was Donatelli's so he walked up the steps and met a few people in the gym and made an agreement to work out in the gym for forty cents a day.
He kept working at the grocery store to pay for his gym time and lessons. Then Alfred was scheduled for his first fight he is very excited until he finds out that he his fighting Donny Mays one of the kids that have been training there already for two years. Alfred lost that fight in four rounds but that did not stop him from training, achieving his perseverance. He learns all about discipline, gets his friends out of their foolish crimes and addictions, and leads himself into a better life.
Theme: The overall theme in the novel is no matter how bad your life is, there is always the possibility that you can turn it around. A major problem dealt with in the book is when Alfred's Aunt Pearl does not want him to go into boxing because she thinks he will become violent, but to the contrary he manages to gain discipline and shows his aunt that boxing does not make a person violent.
Commentary: My favorite part in the novel is when Alfred went to the gym for the first time, he hits the punching bags and hurts his hand, and when he trips and falls flat on his face while jumping rope. It show that proper work ethic would make Alfred more coordinated. I enjoyed reading about Alfred's first fight even though he lost he was not upset, he just kept on working on his technique to achieve his goal and win a match. I would recommend this novel to anyone who like unpredictable, sports story, with a good amount of action in it.